Lactobacillus, is a genus of Gram-positive facultative anaerobic or microaerophilic rod-shaped bacteria. They are a major part of the lactic acid bacteria group. In humans they are part of the vaginal microbiota. Many species in this genus have had their genome sequenced.
Biology and biochemistry
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Lactobacillus is Gram-positive (they retain crystal violet dye), facultative anaerobe (they can produce energy through glycolysis and fermentation when oxygen is not present). Lactobacillus is a member of the lactic acid bacteria group (its members convert lactose and other sugars to lactic acid).
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Many lactobacilli operate using homofermentative metabolism (they produce only lactic acid from sugars), and some species of lactobacilli use heterofermentative metabolism (they can produce either alcohol or lactic acid from sugars). They are aerotolerant despite the complete absence of a respiratory chain. This aerotolerance is manganese-dependent and has been explored (and explained) in Lactobacillus plantarum. Many lactobacilli do not require iron for growth and have an extremely high hydrogen peroxide tolerance.
The genus Lactobacillus currently consists of over 180 species and encompasses a wide variety of organisms. The genus is polyphyletic, with the genus Pediococcus dividing the L. casei group, and the species L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, and L. reuteri being representatives of three distinct subclades. The genus Paralactobacillus falls within the L. salivarius group. In recent years, other members of the genus Lactobacillus (formerly known as the Leuconostoc branch of Lactobacillus) have been reclassified into the genera Atopobium, Carnobacterium, Weissella, Oenococcus, and Leuconostoc. More recently, the Pediococcus species P. dextrinicus has been reclassified as a Lactobacillus species (IJSEM, Paper in Press).
According to metabolism, Lactobacillus species can be divided into three groups:
- Obligately homofermentative (Group I) including:
- Facultatively heterofermentative (Group II) including:
- Obligately heterofermentative (Group III) including:
Usage in humans
Lactobacillus is a type of bacteria with multiple different species in the genus. Most Lactobacillus species in humans are considered harmless. Lactobacilli live in the urinary, digestive and genital tracts of humans. Lactobacillus is possibly effective for preventing diarrhea in children, or bacterial vaginal infections. However, it may be possibly ineffective for urinary tract infections, lactose intolerance, and yeast infections.
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Probiotics and biotherapeutics
Some strains of Lactobacillus spp. and other lactic acid bacteria may possess potential therapeutic properties including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activities, as well as other features of interest. A study by researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and UCLA in 2009 demonstrated the protective effects of some strains of these bacteria for anti-tumor and anti-cancer effects in mice.
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Lactobacilli can also be used to restore particular physiological balance such as in the vaginal eco-system. Studies suggest that lactobaccilli protect vaginal epithelium, maintain an acidic environment, generate hydrogen peroxide (an effective antibiotic against pathogens. Lactobacillus acidophilus is being administered to prevent necrotizing entercolitis and other neonatal infections.
Some Lactobacilli that secrete a peptide (a hormone that releases insulin). One strain was effective in the treatment of diabetes mellitus type 2 in rats, by moving insulin control from the pancreas to the upper intestines. Further testing is currently underway to determine whether higher dosages can completely reverse diabetes mellitus type 2.
Some Lactobacillus species are used as starter cultures in industry for controlled fermentation in the production of yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, pickles, beer, wine, cider, kimchi, cocoa, kefir, and other fermented foods, as well as animal feeds. The antibacterial and anti fungal activity of "Lactobacillus" rely on production of bacteriocins and low-molecular weight compounds that inhibits these microorganisms.
Sourdough bread is made using a "starter culture," which is a symbiotic culture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria growing in a water and flour medium. The bacteria metabolize sugars into lactic acid, which lowers the pH of their environment, creating a signature "sourness" associated with yogurt, sauerkraut, etc.
In many traditional pickling processes, vegetables are submerged in brine, and salt-tolerant lactobacillus species feed on natural sugars found in the vegetables. The resulting mix of salt and lactic acid is a hostile environment for other microbes, such as fungi, and the vegetables are thus preserved—remaining edible for long periods.
Lactobacilli, especially L. casei and L. brevis, are some of the most common beer spoilage organisms. They are however essential to the production of sour beers such as Belgian Lambics and American Wild Ales, giving the beer a distinct tart flavor.
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While streptococci family bacteria (e.g. Streptococcus mutans) are the most common cause of tooth decay, other varieties of microbes can also cause dental caries. For example, although usually considered beneficial, some Lactobacillus species have been associated with cases of dental caries. Lactic acid can corrode teeth, and the Lactobacillus count in saliva has been used as a "caries test" for many years. This is one of the arguments used in support of the use of fluoride in toothpaste.[further explanation needed] Lactobacilli characteristically cause existing carious lesions to progress, especially those in coronal caries. The issue is, however, complex as recent studies show probiotics can allow beneficial lactobacilli to populate sites on teeth, preventing streptococci pathogens from taking hold and inducing dental decay. The scientific research of Lactobacilli in relation to oral health is a new field and only a few studies and results have been published.
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- Data related to Lactobacillus at Wikispecies
- List of species of the genus Lactobacillus
- Lactobacillus at Milk the Funk Wiki